By Penelope Trunk
When I drive, I have arguments with people in my head. I think of someone who does not realize how smart I am about what I am smart about, and I go on tirades to show them how misguided they are.
And I realized one day, while I had a particularly long car ride, that I am actually feeling like I know what women should be doing with their adult life.
Most people would be too humble to say this. But I’m the woman who, after ten years in the workforce, built a career on telling people how to manage their career. So, it makes sense that after getting to age 45 I am ready to tell all women how to live their adult life.
To be clear, I have made lots of mistakes. But I like to think I would not have made those mistakes if I had had a blueprint for adult life like the one I’m giving you, right here. The blueprint starts at age 18 and goes to 45.
1. Do less homework.
Women do better in school than men, but school is not a harbinger of doing well in life. Other stuff is. Other stuff that men do all the time. For example, involvement in sports is a foreshadow of a great career. And video games are, too, because they are both collaborative and competitive–two essential skills. So do stuff guys do, and get grades that are as bad as theirs–after all, you should not be the hardest worker, ever.
2. Get plastic surgery.
This is the must-have career tool for the workforce of the new millennium. You will earn more money and you will have more opportunities for mentoring. Also, you will have a wider choice of men, which, of course, is another way to earn more money.
3. Go to business school right out of the gate.
Everyone has always wanted to go to business school right after college, but good MBA programs didn’t allow it. Now there is an unwritten rule that women can get in earlier because it’s so clear that women who want to have kids don’t really benefit from going to an MBA program later. If you get your MBA early, you accomplish a few key things. Not only do you set yourself up for skipping entry-level jobs, but you also make re-entry after kids an easier process because you have higher level experience before you leave.
On top of that, you are more likely to marry well. Men like women who are smart but not making more than they are. (I do not have a link for this. I have instinct.) Business school is a way to show you are smart, but you don’t make any money in business school. Side benefit: You will be surrounded by men equally as smart as you are but a little older, which is a good hunting ground. (Note: I still think business school is stupid if you are using it to actually become qualified to do something.)
4. Start early looking for a husband seriously.
If you want to have kids, you should aim to be done by the time you are 35, when your eggs start going bad fast. This means you need to get started when you are 30, which means you need to get the guy you want to have kids with by the time you’re 28. People who marry too early are very likely to get divorced. But by age 25, you are safe from those statistical trends. So why not marry early? In any case, start looking very seriously for a husband by the time you are 24. Here is a blog post that summarizes this argument and links to the research to back it up.
5. Milk maternity leave for all it’s worth.
Maternity leave is a complicated political issue, but whatever: For now, it’s your right, so just take what’s yours. Use all your maternity leave, and then make it very difficult to fire you when you return. Start a year before you want to get pregnant, by getting a job at a company that legally must give you maternity leave. I’m not saying you HAVE to take maternity leave, but if you don’t have any, you can’t decide to take it. Position yourself at that company in a job you can do with your eyes closed, in case you want to go back after maternity leave and work. Because if you are taking care of a newborn baby and working full-time, you’ll be doing everything with your eyes closed.
There is an incredible amount of research to show that there should be a single, primary caregiver for the first year. I know that’s not good for feminism. But none of this post is. So look, unless your husband is taking a year off, you’re better off spending most of your time on your kid and not your job. The way to do that is to take all the maternity leave you can and then keep pushing for people to let you keep your job even if you’re not really doing it. Make them fire you. It’ll take their legal department a long time to give permission for that, and you can be collecting a paycheck the whole time. The extra cash can fund the rest of your transition.
6. Guard your marriage obsessively.
Educated women divorce at less than a quarter of the rate of everyone else. Divorce is not socially acceptable for most women reading this blog. We have decades of great data (read Judith Wallerstein) to show that divorce permanently ruins the kids. Yes, it’s true, divorce makes life better for the parents. But kids don’t care. They don’t notice. Kids notice if two parents are paying attention to them, and that is one of the first things to go in a divorce. If you love your kids, you stay married to their parent.
This means that the wife needs to just bite the bullet and maintain the marriage. Stay-at-home spouses keep marriages together more effectively . I know: this is not popular, and not fair, but you do not need to make a crusade out of your family by showing that you can get a divorce and not fuck up your kids. So just bite the bullet and make sure you are keeping your husband happy so your kids can grow up with two parents.
7. Practice austerity.
Austerity is not fun. But you can call it something trendy, like minimalism or slow food.Your ability to manage your life will be nil if you are ruled by financial problems. So that means no big house, no expensive car, no huge vacations. You need control over your life more than you need that stuff. You have more career flexibility, more time flexibility, and more personal flexibility if you can keep your expenses way below what you earn. In this scenario, you do not have to fight with your husband about money. (You can fight about sex and in-laws, which are the other two of the three most popular fight topics.) Also, you can stay home with kids if you want to. And if you don’t want to, you can just be you and admit it. Don’t say you are not with your kids all day because you need the money. That would be a lie.
8. Do a startup with a guy.
Having your own company will give you tons of control over your life. It’s nice to have a funded company because then the investors are taking the financial risk and you are drawing a nice salary even when you are not really earning any revenue. The problem is that VC funded startups require 100+ hour weeks, every week. You should only do one of these types of companies with a guy.
Smart women in their 20s are looking for husbands and cannot be 100% focused on some pie-in-the-sky startup. Women in their 30s are having kids and trying to figure out how to work less. Men are more easily focused solely on work. That’s why there is a salary gap between men and women: Because women focus on work and family, and men focus only on work. Don’t judge. Just get a male business partner. The problem is that men don’t like doing startups with women—it’s bad for them. But still, you can try.
9. If you can’t get men to do a startup with you, do a lifestyle business.
A lifestyle business is one where the revenue is yours to keep. This is good since you will need to earn money, but it’s a little more risky for you personally than a startup because you’re not in it with deep-pocketed investors. Still, a lifestyle business is attractive enough to a woman with kids and a hankering for something interesting in the business world. Also, given the choice between no work, full-time work, or part-time work, Pew Research reports that 80% of women with children would choose part-time work. And we all know that the part-time work opportunities in corporate America suck. So a lifestyle business is the best path to that goal.
10. Homeschool. Your kids will be screwed if you don’t.
The world will not look kindly on people who put their kids into public school. We all know that learning is best when it’s customized to the child and we all know that public schools are not able to do that effectively. And the truly game-changing private schools cost $40,000 a year.
It’s clear is that homeschooled kids will rule the world when Generation Z enters the workplace. So figure out a way to alleviate mommy guilt by homeschooling your kids to get them on that path. You don’t have to do the teaching yourself. You can pay someone. But you need to get your kids out of a system that everyone knows does not work. (Note: I just realized this. This month. And last week, I decided: I’m taking my kids out of school.)
11. Spend money on household help and Botox to keep more doors open longer.
Look, it’s really hard to be a parent and still have an interesting life. Not for men. We have seen enough of feminism to be certain that men are not derailed personally by kids. (In fact, Catalyst reports that having kids increases a man’s earning power. Probably because he is then more likely to have a wife at home inadvertently performing the role of pseudo personal secretary. ) So the more money to spend to get people to help you with your kids, the more time and energy you’ll have to help yourself.
Also, as women age they become more invisible. I know, this is not nice to say. And we are told it’s only true in Hollywood. But since when has something that catches on in Hollywood not been relevant to the rest of us? Even pre-nups went mainstream. So the longer you can look younger than 45 the longer runway time you will have to figure out how to raise kids, hold a marriage together and still keep things vibrant and interesting intellectually. It’s no small feat, but Botox and Restylane will be your best teammates in this part of the adventure.
12. Break the mold in your 40s.
Women get more unhappy as they age. So you can say you don’t like the advice I’m giving. But look, in order to change the trajectory of women’s happiness, we are going to have to drastically change the advice we give to women about how to run their lives. Most of the news about women in their 40s is pretty bad, to be honest. But the good news is that you can change that, by living differently in your 20s and 30s than women did before you. And, if you are in your 40s and reading this, take solace in the fact that by the time women are in their 40s they are great in bed, so if you do nothing else, figure out how to have a lot of sex to leverage your hard-earned talent.